Review / Passion, tango and tapping feet

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“Mr Versatile”… pianist Edward Neeman.

Music / “Knife in the Boot”. Phoenix Collective at Wesley Music Centre, March 5. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE

THE only thing missing from this concert of tango music was a red rose. But then, Phoenix
Collective said this concert was not to be “the usual Hollywood, rose-in-the-teeth, but the knife-in-the-boot style of tango”.

This ensemble produced music so earthy that a red rose would have been out of place anyway. And, while no-one was gliding around the floor, there were plenty of feet (quietly) tapping and swinging to the beguiling rhythms of this most sensuous of dance forms.

Originating in late 19th century Argentina, the tango dance was so – well – sexy, some places around the world, where it became popular, considered it improper for it to be performed publicly. Even without the dance, the music doesn’t leave much to the imagination, such is its passion.

Enter Phoenix Collective. There was Mr Versatile himself, pianist Edward Neeman, who, far from Beethoven or Mendelssohn, was well and truly captured by the tango’s mesmerising pulse. Isabella Brown was on double bass, showing just how agile that instrument really is. And Phoenix Collective’s director, violinist Dan Russell’s obvious passion for this music was infectious.

Their special guest was Maggie Ferguson, founder of TangoOz, playing the intriguing bandoneon. Ferguson is a master exponent of the bandoneon, having studied it in Argentina. She put her audience in no doubt as to its traditional and inextricable connection to the tango.

Feet were tapping along right from the start of Néstor Marconi’s “Moda Tango”, which opened the one-hour program. Then it was a “Cook’s tour” (or perhaps “Coelho’s tour”) through tango music from its earliest days. But it wasn’t a dash through a dozen or so tunes all sounding the same.

The tongue was in the cheek in Ángel Villoldo’s “El Choclo”, apparently the nickname of a
nightclub owner. There was romance in Francisco de Caro’s “Loca Bohemia”, in an arrangement for bandoneon and violin, featuring a long and beautiful solo from the violin.

And there were several tunes by the man who reinvented the tango and created “Nuevo tango”, Astor Piazzolla.

Piazzolla’s “Milonga en Re” for piano and violin was beautifully mournful. His “Oblivion”, one of his most famous works, was haunting and atmospheric.

Closing the show was the irresistible élan of “Nocturna”, a kind of tango-ised “Flight of the
Bumblebee”.

But that was not enough for the capacity, but socially distanced, audience. The group returned to the stage for a masterful performance of Piazzolla’s signature work, “Libertango”.

Phoenix Collective’s motto is to perform “Concerts that excite and inspire”. This concert certainly lived up to that.

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